Technology website The Intercept reported on Wednesday that Google has been secretly developing an app which would see the company operate its search engine in China for the first time since it shut down its core business in the country in 2010.
The secretive project is codenamed "Dragonfly" and has been underway for more than a year.
Google launched a Chinese language version of its search engine - google.cn - in 2006. If approved by the government officials, the app could launch in the next 6 to 9 months. To recall, Google's search engine can not be accessed normally in China, considering it has been blocked by the country's "Great Firewall".
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Google is working on a censored version of its search engine in China, which will restrict content related to human rights, democracy, and religion, insiders tell The Intercept. Eventually, the company chose to scrap the search engine after Chinese human rights activists' Gmail accounts were hacked in a coordinated attack and negotiations with the Chinese government predictably failed to result in any kind of agreement. In addition to "people familiar with the plans", the report also claimed to cite internal Google documents.
First published August 1 at 8:25 a.m. PT. Update, 12:45 p.m.: Adds more information.
Google did operate in the country from 2006 to 2010, when it also agreed to the local censorship laws, facing harsh criticism from U.S. officials.
With more than 770 million Internet users as of late previous year, China has always been an attractive market for tech companies. Google's search engine and other services are in the same predicament. The source stated that they feared "what is done in China will become a template for many other nations".
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Progress on the project picked up after a December meeting between Google's Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, it added. Facebook (FB), which competes with Google for advertising revenue, is also locked out of China.
Google's re-entry into China will see it compete with Baidu, which now has nearly 70 per cent of the domestic search market, according to data by StatCounter Global Stats.
"We provide a number of mobile apps in China".
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Cédric Alviani from Reporters Without Borders told HKFP: "China has been lobbying for years to promote the idea of "national sovereignty" over the internet, which is a pretext for making it a tool of censorship and surveillance". "They collect much more data and Google can be requested to handover these data to the government".